Morphing Eating Out occasions

Przemyslaw Sakrajda (Wikimedia Commons)

Przemyslaw Sakrajda (Wikimedia Commons)

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New British food culture where meal occasions and the consumption locations are continuing to morph to satisfy consumer demands.

We are moving away from 'eating out' as an occasional Saturday night treat to making it the new normal. With the plethora of exciting new restaurants on every high street and the shift towards more flexible working hours, fixed mealtimes are becoming a thing of the past.

According to Trajectory’s Eating Out study conducted for Sacla, 56 per cent of Londoners and 52 per cent of respondents from London describe their working hours as irregular, changing or unpredictable. 31 per cent skip breakfast regularly, and 23 per cent of people eat mid-afternoon, though some call it late lunch, afternoon tea, snacking and early dinner. This level of day to day unpredictability is directly encouraging more spontaneous socialising, discovery and impulse buying. We now expect the food we desire, when we want it, how we want it and exactly where we want it.  Any time, any place, and anywhere!

The importance for foodservice operators in terms of their opening hours seems self-explanatory. Businesses are responding to our needs for both flexibility and control, as they recognise how these five key consumer trends provide opportunities for growth. 

Work and play merge together

If you remember the Central Perk coffee house from 'Friends', you may be showing your age, but at the same time it is highly likely that cafes near you have a similar home-from-home vibe and become your new office. These days real work is being done on tablets and phones while sitting in comfort. Yes, cafes and bars will always have the social element, but now that is often secondary to the business meeting or project work happening at the same time. WiFi is now not an optional extra for the operator, but vital to its business’ revenue as it leads to customer visit frequency and increased dwelling time. 

This 'third place' where home comforts and the workplace intersect comes in many shapes and sizes. In East London 'Ziferblat' is a place where "Everything is free inside; except the time you spend." Currently you pay 5p per minute, and as a 'micro tenant' you can drink tea or coffee, eat cakes, play board games, work or simply share time with other guests. It may be quite 'hipster', but more traditional cafes are also upping their game to keep consumers coming back, staying longer and (hopefully) spending more. For example 'Caravan' is a cafe/restaurant/bar with its own well displayed coffee roastery on site. It's an appealing space to spend time while appreciating the art, craft and science that goes into your espresso, or to just catch up on your emails.

No compromise

The Millennials/Gen Y may be spending less each visit than the over 40s, but they eat out more often and are more adventurous. Craving novelty, they want new tastes and experiences, but even though the key reason for eating out is still 'for a treat', they also want something that feels 'healthy' and 'fresh.' Itsu, Pod and Leon have responded to these demands and as a result are growing fast. Those operators raised the bar in terms of their offering being much more authentic, fresh and natural, yet still convenient. They also recognise the importance of honesty to consumers ensuring transparency at all times.

Satisfy my cravings

We are living in a time that international travel and regional food experiences are available to many. Consumers have become increasingly adventurous with flavours and actively seek cuisine to stimulate all the senses. Luckily, there are now a plethora of authentic eating out options across all the different price points. It is easy to find a restaurant within your budget without spending a fortune. For example, YO! Sushi or Itsu for Japanese could be a daily treat, as could a meal at the Mexican Wahaca or a pizza from Franco Manco. But all have their counterparts higher up the price scale. For example, Japanese aficionados wanting something a bit more special could enjoy the upmarket Nobu, the swanky Zuma, the almost unbookable £300/head menu at 'The Araki', or somewhere in between.  

Solo, but in a crowd 

Times have changed. In the nineties a woman sitting alone in a pub and drinking a pint was not only unusual, but discouraged. Realising the purchasing power of women, pub chains made changes. Big glass windows, lighter, more appealing decor and wine lists that went beyond house red or white all helped to attract women. The smoking ban and the rise of gastro pubs made for a better environment for everyone, and now new openings always major in relaxed eating in a contemporary style. Innovations continue as 'alone eating' is set to increase. Research from Hartman group suggests that this trend is due to more single parent households and fewer sit down 'family meals', matched with growing normalisation of eating while working. Hence the appeal of spaces with large sharing tables, where the individual can feel welcomed in their desire to have a bit of 'me time', but still be among others.

Dawn to dusk, and beyond

Twenty-four hour dining is not new in the fast food game, but there are few attempts at a more extensive menu, such as Vingt-Quatre (VQ) with its branches in Chelsea and Bloomsbury. It has an alcohol licence and offers omelettes, salads and pasta alongside their all day breakfast. A different take on the idea has come from Starbucks, which is incorporating a roastery within its 'Starbucks Reserve' concept and is trialing an extended offer. From 4pm, the 'Starbucks evenings' menu starts and consumers will be able eat savoury small plates and drink wine or beer. Pret A Manger has also opened its first proper evening restaurant in an attempt to catch the post-work crew, keen to line their stomachs with something cheap, quick, tasty and healthy before their after-work drinks. This already-established brands seems likely to make a success of this idea, so other coffee shops are no doubt keeping a close eye on the results.

So within the eating out scene, meal occasions and the consumption locations continue to morph and merge to satisfy consumer demands. 'Fusion' is no longer an exclusive term for exotic foods, but can equally apply to the totality of the new British food culture, where traditional meals at traditional times are looking distinctly old fashioned.